A historic inter-Mennonite forum held in Kinshasa, Congo, June 11-16 brought together over 65 representatives from Congolese Mennonite churches and agencies, as well as several invited guests from other countries (Angola, Central African Republic, Republic of Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, South Africa and France).
The week-long forum, sponsored by the Congolese Inter-Mennonite Committee (CONIM), discussed topics such as mission outreach, the role of women in the church, conflict resolution, the churches’ relationship to international organizations (such as Mennonite World Conference), ways of involving youth more actively in the church and other issues facing the churches in Africa. CONIM is an agency of the Mennonite, Evangelical Mennonite and Mennonite Brethren churches, as well as Mennonite Central Committee in Congo.
Matthieu Shimatu, executive secretary of CONIM, described the spirit of the gathering as having been exceptionally good. The forum was moderated by Toss Mukwa, an organizational consultant and member of the Mennonite Brethren Church of the Congo. Financial support for the meeting was provided by the three Mennonite churches in the Congo, MCC, MBMS International and Africa Inter- Mennonite Mission.
MCC, which helped to get CONIM started in the 1980s, was represented at the forum by MCC Congo staff. The forum planners had also invited guests from North America and Europe to serve as observers and to participate in the dialogue. Rene Eyer from France was one of the Mennonite emissaries from the North, and Tim Lind, Durban, South Africa, who serves on the MWC Global Gift Sharing Project staff, was also an invited guest.
Concerning CONIM’s future responsibilities, the forum participants said it should develop an effective framework to reinforce unity, solidarity and mutual aid among the various Mennonite conferences. They also called for the creation of a commission to identify the weaknesses and their causes in different areas of the Mennonite churches, such as weaknesses in unity, Anabaptist teachings, missions, and fraternal relations with other partners. The goal, they said, should be to strengthen fraternal relations with the worldwide Anabaptist-Mennonite family.
They agreed that women should become more involved within the church structures at all levels. They will work towards the ordination of women in pastoral ministry and encourage the education and training of Mennonite women.
The support of existing missions and the creation of mission structures at all levels of the church should be encouraged, they said.
The member conferences, they agreed, should elaborate a clear, inclusive and easily transmissible vision, popularize Anabaptist theology and ensure its practice, and give priority to management and conflict transformation.
They want to make plans for the participation and integration of youth into the work and future of the conferences. They will encourage interconference youth exchanges with Congo, Africa and the world.
They also committed themselves to work harder at making the church members at the grassroots level more aware of international Anabaptist organizations such as Mennonite World Conference and the Francophone Network. They will encourage MWC to facilitate contacts and to help churches to communicate with each other.
Eyer made the following observations at the conclusion of the forum: “The Congolese Mennonites have highly qualified people who could be of great use to leadership training in our churches… I am no longer surprised by the growth of the churches in general and the Mennonite churches in particular in this part of the world. The commitment of those involved in the work of the church is enormous. The church represents a great deal to these people. Living with very little materially, the fraternal solidarity of the church is a valuable support. Their spirituality touches daily life in all areas, such as health and daily food-and it is lived intensely.”
Lind agreed, saying, “The gathering displayed an impressive array of resources in many different areas, and once again I was moved by the wealth of the church.”
—Larry Kehler, MWC news editor, from reports by Matthieu Shimatu and Rene Eyer